Monday, October 12, 2009

Nilsen, Lind, Holm, & Fuentes: Hallelujah

Every Monday, I feature covers of songs that were recorded and made famous by others. Today's song is by Norwegian artists Kurt Nilsen, Espen Lind, Askil Holm, and Alejandro Fuentes and is a cover of "Hallelujah," which is best known by the late Jeff Buckley.

I found this version last fall completely by accident. At first listen, I was duly impressed by the harmony created by these four singers. In order of appearance, the performers include the following:
  • Espen Lind (who is playing guitar and sings the first verse) was awarded the Norwegian Artist of the Year for 2009;
  • Askil Holm who sings the first half of verse two;
  • Alejandro Fuentes, a displaced Chilean who finished third in the third season of Norwegian Idol, sings the second half of verse two;
  • Kurt Nilsen, singer of the final verse, won both first place in the initial season of Norwegian Idol and first place on World Idol in 2004. 

I find this song very interesting as the lyrics on the surface seem hopeful with the refrain "Hallelujah" throughout, but it is really a very dark song – especially when you read all of the verses most people don’t sing. Written by Canadian Leonard Cohen, this song has been recorded an estimated 200+ times including three releases (one studio and two live) by Cohen.

My main problem with the song is the confusion of the biblical stories of David and Samson, which may have been intentional or accidental – I lean towards the latter.

This is far from a religious song; however, as mentioned earlier, it does contain biblical and Judeo-Christian references. So I would imagine that there are some who believe it to be religious – but probably this is the same crowd that thinks “One Toke over the Line” by Brewer and Shipley is religious as well because the song frequently references “Sweet Jesus.” When I worked for WEMM in Huntington, WV, we had an album by a gospel group from Hurricane, WV that actually included "One Toke over the Line." Go figure.

Despite some of its lyrical problems, this Leonard Cohen song is simply beautiful – although I wouldn’t recommend any gospel musicians to record it. Of the hundreds of versions, there are six that can be credited as having a major influence:
  • Cohen’s original, which charted in the UK in 2008 at 36;
  • John Cale’s version (the first cover of the song and whose lyrical editing most other covers follow);
  • Jeff Buckley’s 1994 cover, which Rolling Stone listed as one of the top 500 songs of all time as well as being an international hit;
  • Rufus Wainwright’s version for the movie Shrek;
  • Alexadra Burke’s #1 hit in the UK and Ireland in 2008
  • Lind, Nilsen, Fuentes, & Holm – the first version to chart within the top 40 anywhere – charting in Norway at #1 in 2007.
Besides the Nilsen, Lind, Holm, and Fuentes version, I am including Jeff Buckley's version as it is the granddaddy of the covers.  It posthumously charted in 2008 on Billboard’s Hot Digital Songs (1) in the US, in the UK (2), in France (2), in Sweden (3), in Norway (7), and in Finland (9). This really is the best version of the song and the one most people have heard.

As previously stated, Alexandra Burke’s version charted in the UK and Ireland at #1.

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